2019 was my third Origins so I decided play something utterly different – miniatures. I’ve read after-action reports from Wings of Glory games and thought the WW1 aircraft would be a good place to start miniature combat because there are few units and the planes move slowly and are not very maneuverable. Ares sponsored multiple Wings of Glory and Wings of War scenarios, so I checked to see which ones welcomed beginners and signed up for two. My first 2019 Origins game was Wings of Glory on Wednesday Noon.
The first scenario was a fourteen-plane fight early war fight in the English Channel over a British Destroyer with engine problems stranded close to the French Coast. Seven German planes were attempting to sink the destroyer with seven allied planes flying in defense. Unfortunately for the Germans, the destroyer had multiple machine guns and honestly did more damage than the aerial defenders. The game was simplified with all planes flying the same altitude with no climbing or diving.
Twelve of the fourteen pilots (players) were experienced to very experienced.
There were two noobies at the table. The coordinator ran the guns of the destroyer. I flew a Sopwith Camel – the first single seater bi-plane fighter flown by the British – aka the “Snoopy plane.” The Camel is very sturdy, but has difficulty turning left due to engine design.
The coordinator gave a very brief overview of the rules. The rules were you pick three flight cards before the start of a turn; you cannot play two diamond cards in a row; no altitude changes; stay on the map; and if you are shot down you stay out one turn before reentering battle. The experienced players were eager to help the newbies.
A huge fight ensued.
I decided a couple of things before deciding on my first three cards. First, I would not embarrass myself by flying off the map. Second, I would intentionally move slowly the first turn so I would not crash into my fellow British pilots. Third, after the first move or two I would pick targets and try to shoot them down. This was not the most daring strategy, but it avoids irritating others and allows me to see how the game mechanics worked before the battle became intense.
The Germans homed in on the Destroyer – except for the newbie who kept flying erratically in the middle of the formation. My fellow Brits went full power to intercept. When the Germans got in range the ship’s machine guns opened fire to devastating effect as they targeted every German plane in their firing arc.
After the first two moves I was about a half a turn (say 2 cards worth) flight time behind the British leaders. At this point I started to plot what I thought the closer opposing Germans would do and attempted to counter-move so their planes would enter my firing arc – hopefully while staying out of their firing arc. There is a lot of chaos (and guesswork) in a fourteen plane battle.
I’m a pretty good low stakes poker player. I was more flying in opposition to my chosen opponents than attempting to create action on my own. Perhaps it was blind newbie luck, perhaps it was my poker skill, perhaps everyone else discounted me as a newbie – but I landed more shots than almost everyone on the British side (excepting the destroyer) and downed two German aircraft without getting shot down. A good part of this was luck because my total of 7 landed shots included a “boom card” and a “pilot shot” card both becoming kills. Kills were signified by awarding a green poker chip while being shot down acquired the dread red poker chip.
The coordinator declared three winners and I landed in the top three. I was given a $5 coupon for Ares merchandise – which I gave to a fellow wargamer back at the Armchair Dragoons booth.
Sunday Afternoon – Late in the War my 2nd Battle
The second scenario was placed in 1918. Two British Bombers are being intercepted by five German planes. The Bombers are escorted by five British planes. The Bombers were flown by the coordinator. In this battle everyone started at level 3 and there was a hard ceiling at level 4. Planes could climb and dive. Every single pilot in the air, except me, was experienced.
This time I was flying with the Germans in a Schuckert D III which is both faster and far more maneuverable than early war planes. As a newbie, I decided I would stay at the same level as the bombers (level 3) and not climb or dive. Once again, I initially flew slowly to see how the battle developed.
What happened next was every German plane excepting mine flew into close proximity of the bombers and concentrating their fire. The British defenders also swarmed around the bombers, except for two planes attempting a longer range intercept. I realized that the furball around those bombers was very tight, that I did not really know how to fly this plane, and that if I quickly closed on the bombers I was likely to collide with something.
So, I went after enemy planes instead of the primary target of the Bombers. My fellow German pilots poured massive fire into the bombers and eventually shot one down. I was the only pilot who never even fired a shot at the bombers.
I went after the Brits using my previous strategy of thinking through what I thought they would do and playing my cards appropriately. I got on the tail of one Brit and poured a total of 5 hits on them eventually shooting them down. My second target took six hits (three close range shots) and fell. By this time, I was so far away from the rest of the action that I never closed within range again.
Dumb luck again? Natural talent? I have no idea. I did get one “boom” card, but that was on the fifth hit. The other plane went down after a swarm of hits from myself and a fellow pilot. I once again got two kills with no losses and was awarded another $5 off – which I gave to another German pilot.
Back at the Aerodrome
This was a lot of fun! Having a bunch of planes in the air is manageable with this very quick flight and combat resolution system – at least if a supra-majority of the pilots are experienced. Both scenarios were scheduled for two hours and ended a hair early. The other players could not be more welcoming to a newbie pilot. The battlefields were very memorable with the miniature planes and the ship. Both scenarios were stacked against the Germans because the destroyer or the bombers gave additional fire against the Germans – but everyone seemed to have a good time and thanked the organizer. Ares provided enough prize support that winners felt a sense of accomplishment (although I gave my two coupons away).
Wings of Glory is an excellent Convention game. Large scale, memorable battles can be fought in a short time.
However, there are two improvements that could be made for newbie players. First, the organizers should have a short rules synopsis printed out on 3×5 index cards for newbies. Wings of Glory and Wings of War put their full rules set online in pdf form – so having a short rules summary for newbies would not run into copyright problems.
Second, card design contains a simple, correctable flaw. An Immelmann turn is a vital maneuver in aerial combat generally and in the Wings of Glory game specifically. An Immelmann reverses the direction of flight over a single card. The card signifying a straight ahead move and an Immelmann card are almost indistinguishable – if a newbie player gets their cards shuffled together incorrectly in the heat of battle.
The cards should print something legible – the flight in a different color; having a “reverse direction” printed on the card; or something else to prevent the wrong card from being played. The diamond on the bottom of the card indicating a special maneuver which cannot be played twice in a row is clear – the Immelmann was not to an utter newbie who got their cards turned around.
To my embarrassment, my next to last move in the second game (3rd card in sequence in my next to last turn) was an accidental Immelmann instead of the full power straight ahead move. This happened because I shuffled the card in upside down into my flight deck. It made no difference in the outcome. At that point I was very far away from the other planes. I also misjudged the turning rate of the bombers and never got close for a shot on them – a mistake due to my inexperience and lack of knowledge. I am a noob and I totally misjudged the speed of a bomber turn.
If nothing else, the suggested 3×5 card should give newbies a warning to be sure that their cards are all sorted so the bottom of the card has the correct flight indication. Don’t get your cards turned around in the heat of battle!